Because of its high strength and favorable dielectric properties, tantalum has become an invaluable material to the microelectronics industry. That value, unfortunately, has not been lost on rebel militias in the heart of Africa, where the extraction of the lustrous metal has become a deadly means for financing civil war. The situation presents a clear ethical problem for companies: How can they be sure that the dielectric material used to make processors for computers and cell phones is not the same material being used to fuel conflict? If you’re Intel, you turn to Carolyn Duran.

An article in the Beyond the Lab section of the November 2016 issue of MRS Bulletin highlights the efforts of Duran, supply manager at Intel Corporation in Oregon in the US, to ethically source tantalum, tin, and tungsten—materials critical for and widely used in microprocessor technologies—from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The nearly two-decade war that has ravaged the republic—the deadliest since World War II—has largely been propelled by the trade in so-called conflict minerals, mainly tantalum. Rebel groups seeking to finance their cause have commandeered numerous tantalum mines in the region, using violence to force laborers to work under harsh conditions.

In the article “Intel’s Carolyn Duran ensures conflict-free minerals supply chain,” writer Prachi Patel describes how Duran and her colleagues undertook the formidable task of distinguishing conflict mines from conflict-free ones. From carefully tracing the tangled supply chain linking Intel’s raw materials to their source to gaining international buy-in for the growing “conflict-free” movement, Duran’s path has been dotted with numerous obstacles.

But when the easier path could have been to source materials from outside of the Congo, the chosen course, which seeks to preserve an industry vital to the livelihood of millions of people, is telling of the team’s resolve in facing this critical issue.

Read the article from the November issue of MRS BulletinIntel’s Carolyn Duran ensures conflict-free minerals supply chain by Prachi Patelin 
Electronic access to the entire issue of MRS Bulletin is free for all current members of the Materials Research Society.

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